Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Red Chard with Bacon and Cannellini Beans

I once attended this awesome lecture class at the Natural Gourmet cooking school, taught by Annemarie Colbin, whom I admire very much for proving that it’s possible to believe in holistic health and nutrition without being pretentious or preachy. To wit: At one point she said something like, “I just know there’s something medicinal about bacon. I haven’t figured it out yet, but it’s just so delicious, there has to be!”

That quip came to my mind while making Red Chard with Bacon and Cannellini Beans (above left), since if you operate with the assumption that bacon is indeed somehow medicinal, this would be, like, the healthiest dish ever. You could, of course, omit the bacon and just use olive oil to sauté your veggies, but bacon is a great complement to bitter greens and really just brings all these flavors together.

(Also, you could use kale instead of chard, though I might discard the stems and use solely the leaves, and also cook it about 10 minutes longer. But I love red chard [above right], because it cooks into such a pretty pink color.)

  • Cut up 3 or 4 pieces of bacon, preferably thick-cut, into Listerine-breath-strip-sized pieces, and cook over medium heat in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan until just cooked through (you don’t want crispy for this, even if that’s your breakfast preference).

  • While your bacon is cooking, chop off the stems of 1 washed bunch of red chard. Trim off the bottoms and discard, then chop the stems into roughly half-inch pieces. Stack the chard leaves and chop them roughly into strips, perpendicular to the stem line, then run your knife through in the other direction a few times.

  • Once it’s done, remove bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels. Being very careful, pour out most of the liquid bacon fat into an empty tin can, or down your sink with the hot water running. Leave the last tablespoon or so, with the yummy brown flecks, in the pan.

  • Return the pan to the burner and add 1 TBSP or so of olive oil.

  • Add the chopped chard stems, sprinkle with kosher salt, and stir with a wooden spoon. Splash a bit more olive oil in if the chard doesn’t look coated.

  • Dice half a red onion and stir it in.

  • Dice 3 or 4 garlic cloves and stir them in.

  • After stirring occasionally for 5 minutes or so (the chard should be starting to soften), stir in about 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar. Follow with about ½ cup of chicken or vegetable stock and turn up the heat to high. When it gets bubbly-boily, turn it back down to medium.

  • Stir in the chopped chard leaves and another sprinkle of salt. They are going to cook down a lot, like all greens.

  • Stir in half a can of cannellini beans, drained. (Drain the liquid from the can directly into a Tupperware container, then add the other half-can of beans and refrigerate or freeze.)

  • Return the bacon to the pan. Keep stirring every couple of minutes until the greens are wilted, i.e. not too chewy and tough. Serve with a slotted spoon so any leftover liquid doesn’t spread all over your plate.

    This recipe could serve three or four as a side dish; for two, we ended up with leftovers. I served it as an accompaniment to roasted lamb chops and potatoes (above right); you could instead toss it with spaghetti and Parmesan, which would give you a pretty healthy and cheap one-dish meal for two, with protein from the beans, vitamins from the greens… and, of course, the mysteriously salutary qualities of bacon.


    1. I would assume so, since if God didn't want vegetarians to eat bacon, why would S/He make it taste so delicious with green vegetables? You can't argue with that kind of logic.

    2. Questions:

      1. Why can't I make the bacon crispy?

      2. Is Red Chard in season? Or doesn't that matter?

      3. Why did I always think you were supposed to pour out the bacon grease with COLD water? It's hot water?

      4. Why did I spend so much money on a plumber last year? (the answer to question three may make the answer to question four irrelevant).

      Sounds delicious. I will attempt this.

    3. Also, why a wooden spoon? I'm not being a smartass here. Does that make a flavor difference?

    4. I'm sorry sir, but did you notice that it said "Post a Comment," not "Ask a bunch of questions"? But anyway. Ahem.

      1. If the bacon is crispy, the crunchy texture will just kind of not integrate with the dish. I would use the word "mouthfeel" here, but it sounds kind of dirty.

      2. Good question.

      3 & 4. The hot water helps the grease go down. Cold water will just make it congeal.

      5. Well, it doesn't HAVE to be a wooden spoon, but there's something about using one. If you're using a regular metal spoon to stir what you're sautéeing, you should probably invest the $1 in a wooden spoon.

      I hope I have successfully answered your questions, sir. If not, I suggest you read something less challenging, such as "Marmaduke."

    5. (For those who have read this far without being disgusted by my asshole attitude, let it be known that Sunny Jim is a friend of me and of BGC, who shares our sense of humor... lest you fear to ask your own questions, I promise the responses will not be so snarky.)